Abstract

The relative intensity of tectonic and climatic forcing in the western European Alps has been a matter of debate since the recognition of a significant increase in denudation rates over the past few million years. We address this question by quantitatively correlating the spatial pattern of long-term exhumation rates with those of potential short-term tectonic, climatic, and morphologic variables. We find that present-day rock-uplift rates (as measured by geodesy relative to a specific reference point) and mean elevation are correlated with long-term exhumation rates, whereas relief, present-day precipitation, discharge, stream power, and released seismic energy are not, or are only weakly, correlated. We attribute the lack of correlation between long-term exhumation and precipitation to a strong temporal variability in climate and erosional processes during Pliocene–Pleistocene time. The correlations among present-day rock-uplift rates, present-day elevations, and long-term exhumation rates suggest that rock-uplift rates have been sustained for millions of years, consistent with rock-uplift rates being the isostatic response to crustal unloading. The lack of a correlation of the released seismic energy with either rock uplift or long-term exhumation denies active tectonics supporting evidence.

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